Isn't She Lovely Page 69

I was so awfully, horribly wrong.

It’s not that I was faultless. Everything he said about me was right. I opted to be the statue instead of taking his offer of life.

I just wish it didn’t have to be his life. His way.

The pain was bad enough that I actually wanted to come home. I hadn’t even realized I thought of North Carolina as home until I was at the airport, after telling my campus job that I wouldn’t be able to start early after all.

I just wanted my dad.

I wanted family.

There’s a knock at my door, and I tug off the headphones that are blaring angsty break-up music.

“Come in.”

It’s Amy.

“Hey, I’m headed to the mall to get something for my niece’s baby shower. You want to come?”

“No, thanks,” I say automatically. Saying no to Amy is a habit.

She forces a little smile onto her face. “Okay. No problem. Shrimp scampi for dinner sound good?”

“Whatever,” I mutter.

Amy closes the door softly behind her, and I feel righteous and justified for about four seconds before I feel like a total brat.

I’m on my feet and out the door before I realize I’ve moved.

“Hey, Amy.”

She turns around.

“Actually, I would like to come to the mall. Just give me a sec to do something with my hair.”

I don’t know which one of us is more surprised, but she recovers quickly, and her smile gives me a little stab of regret about my behavior for the past four years.

“Your hair looks great,” she says. “I love the cut.”

“Thanks. I do too,” I say. Another surprise. Another part of me that’s changed. Another change I’ve embraced.

Maybe it’s time to take on a change bigger than hair and dresses.

Maybe it’s time to change my relationship with Amy. Maybe that too will be better than expected.

Shopping is considerably less painful than I would have thought, and when Amy suggests that we stop at her favorite wine bar before heading home for dinner, I hear myself say yes. And not just because I feel obligated to, but because sharing a glass of wine with a mother figure sounds kind of … nice.

My wine-drinking expertise is less than a year old, as my access to alcohol before the age of twenty-one was pretty much limited to keg cups. I ask Amy to pick something for me, and she gets us two glasses of sauvignon blanc, which is every bit as refreshing as she said it would be.

“So your dad and I are so glad you decided to surprise us,” she says as we settle into chairs on a little outdoor patio.

“I’m sorry to miss Chris,” I say. “I didn’t realize he’d be at baseball camp this week.”

“He gets back next week, so hopefully you can have a couple of days together before you head back to school. Your father and I would love it if you guys could become closer, although I suppose a twenty-one-year-old film student and a seventeen-year-old jock might not have a lot in common.”

The word jock makes me think of Ethan, and I take a bigger-than-classy sip of wine.

“So what inspired your visit?” she asks. Her tone is casual, but she’s watching me closely, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that she’s fishing, although not in an obnoxious way.

I give her a knowing smile. “Did my dad put you up to this?”

Her white teeth beam. “Guilty. If you don’t want to share, that’s totally fine. I just thought you might want to, you know … talk.”

I run a finger around the base of my glass, considering. Ever since that conversation on the beach with Ethan, my resentment of Amy has been sort of fading, as though saying it out loud forced me to realize how petty I was being.

And that while maybe six months was fast for them to get married, love apparently didn’t work on a schedule. Perhaps my dad and Amy weren’t guilty of anything but finding happiness with the other person, and it just hadn’t happened to adhere to my emotional schedule.

Talking to Ethan about Amy had been therapeutic.

Maybe it would work the other way as well.

I take a deep breath. “It’s about a guy.”

She nods knowingly. “It usually is.”

Suddenly I’m telling her the whole story. How Ethan was gorgeous, even when I thought he was a prick that first day. How he was even more gorgeous when I started to think he wasn’t such a prick after all.

I tell her about the screenplay, and how I think we both knew all along that we weren’t doing it for the sake of our film class, or even the sake of his fake-girlfriend story, but because it had given us a way to be together when we lacked the guts to do it for real.

I tell her about the first time he kissed me, and how it had been the most incredible kiss of my life. I tell her about the clothes, the haircut, and the makeup, and how even as I resented it all, he made me feel pretty for the first time in a long time. I tell her about the wedding, the parties, and the dancing. I tell her about the quiet moments too, watching movies or sharing a pizza.

I tell her that I love him.

And that he hurt me.

And that I think I hurt him too.

Somehow in the midst of all this I’m crying, and I hate that I’m crying, and Amy’s moved her chair around the table to put an arm around me. And I let her.

She doesn’t seem to care that I’m soaking her white button-down with mascara-stained tears, and strokes my hair. And it’s nice. She’s not my mom, but she’s here. And that counts for more than I realized.

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